As one begins the practice of Shodo, there are basic “constants” to keep in mind. It should be noted (by student's of RyuTe), that the study of “Shodo”, is very similar to the practice/study of “RyuTe”. Both have numerous “details” that need to remain constant throughout the execution of performing the various motions.
First is the student's “use” of the body. Just as in RyuTe, Shodo requires the student to utilize “body” motion with all of the required actions(“strokes”).Though only being utilized from “the waist up”, the legs must (as in RyuTe) be in a position of stability (to allow the required actions of the arms to occur). Attempting to use “only” the arm (motions), will result in “oddly” shaped strokes (just as doing so in RyuTe, will result in oddly executed techniques). This “stability”, is often maintained from sitting in “Seiza”(or through the use of a “zen bench”, which allows the legs to be placed similar to Seiza, while sitting upon a short “bench”). If/when sitting on a “western” style chair, both feet should remain upon the floor, with the back straight (no “slouching”, or leaning back against the backrest of the chair).
Second, would be the use of “breath” in conjunction with the actions involved with performing the strokes. When one attempts to “hold” their breath, they will find that the strokes will often become “jagged”, and/or display an (obvious) “Jerkiness” to them. When one steadily “exhales”(while performing a stroke) the lines will tend to be “smoother”, allowing the student to concentrate on the varying “width” requirements of the stroke being performed. With practice, one learns to “regulate” this exhalation, so a single breath is all that is necessary for each kanji being brushed (just as when performing “multiple” technique applications, a single “exhalation” is done).
A large portion of the beginning Shodoka's (student of Shodo) time, is spent on “how” to create the various strokes needed to create the required kanji. There are a “few”, that only require a couple of strokes, but the majority have multiple variations of the individual strokes. The “first” of these strokes, is refereed to as the “Mother Dot”.
Every Stroke Begins With the “Mother Dot”(hence the “name”). It is neither “complicated”, nor “difficult” to brush. None the less, mastery of this stroke (or “Dot”) is mandatory to beginning to perform “Shodo”. The stroke begins with placement of the “tip” of the brush against the paper, then a lowering, and placement of the body of the brush at (an approximate) 45ºangle, to the lower right of the beginning placement(for student's of “RyuTe”, this should be especially easy to remember, LOL).
As the brush is lowered(at the “end” of the main “stroke”) one can/will apply a light “bounce”(to create the “clean” rounded end of the stroke). It is fairly common for the “bottom” of the “dot” to become “flattened”. This is usually the result of excessive “pressure” (against the brush), which “flattens” the bristles (creating the “flattened” end of the stroke upon the paper). The “bounce”, should be performed without “lifting” the brush from the paper, the “tip” maintains constant contact, and is never lifted/removed from it until the stroke is completed. There will be various strokes that also utilize this “bounce”, so the understanding, and execution of it should become “second nature” to the student.
The “next” motion/stroke, will be the horizontal line. For learning purposes, it is usually the kanji “ichi”(“one”) that is used for learning this stroke. If one “notices”, there are no (perfectly) “straight/level” and/or “straight/vertical” lines performed in “Shodo”. Every one will have some distinguishing “variance” that eliminates a (any) completely “straight” lines from the kanji. In the case of “ichi”, once the placement of the “Mother dot” is done(with no ending “bounce”) the brush remains in contact with the paper, and is drawn (as in “pulled”) upward, and to the right of the beginning (“Mother dot”). The stroke “raises” slightly, and levels out until it reaches the end of the stroke. Once there, “then” the “bounce” is applied( to provide a “clean” end to the stroke). If one notes the “example”, the bottom edge of the ending stroke's placement, will be (almost) even with the “top” of the initial “Mother dot's” placement.
It needs to be remembered (by the student) that the brush is to remain “vertical” throughout all of the motions being done (while practicing any/all of the motions/strokes in Shodo). Although the student (usually) is beginning with only practicing “Kaisho”(“Block”style) character's, if one begins “leaning” the brush, during any of the motions, when attempting the “other” styles, they will encounter numerous problems with the ability to do so(and the ability of making them “look” correct).
Just as with any “martial art”, Shodo has it individual nuances that enable it to be done “correctly”. There exist several “teaching” methods, and schools of Shodo instruction. The methods that I utilize, are those taught through the Nihon Shuji (The Japan Calligraphy Education Foundation). They offer a very “affordable” course of study (via “postal mailing's” of the assignments). Just as with a martial art, student's are “ranked” after submitting the initial “model”. Rankings begin at/with 10th kyu(referred to as “shinkyu”, or “new/beginning” kyu rank), and count down to 1st kyu, then begin counting “up”(1st Dan, 2nd Dan, 3rd Dan, etc.). Student's are sent monthly assignments, along with completed examples and descriptions. When completed, the student will mail their “assignment” back to the association. These are then “graded” and returned, with any corrections noted, and will include their next month's assignment.
The association's “schedule” for progression(in “rank”), is essentially “3” years (to attain 1st Dan). This will obviously vary depending upon an individual's ability. “Dan” ranking provides acknowledgment of instruction “ability/recognition” for progressive “age groups”( 1st Dan, for small children, 2nd Dan for teens, and 3rd Dan for Adults, 4th Dan recognizes the student as a general “Instructor” of Shodo).